In our definition of saving faith we emphasized that faith is that gift of God whereby we are engrafted into Christ and whereby we receive all the benefits that are in Christ Jesus our Lord.
By faith we are engrafted into Christ. It is the means, the spiritual means, whereby we are united with Christ. It is the spiritual bond whereby we are made one body, one plant, with Him, so that by faith we live out of Him, and out of Him draw all our spiritual benefits. This is also true of the description of faith given by our Heidelberg Catechism. And this is very important. We certainly should not change it into anything else. The answer of the Catechism is very definite. It indeed might easily be changed into something that appears to be similar, but is nevertheless quite radically and fundamentally different. Thus, for instance, faith might be defined as that act of man by which he accepts Christ Jesus as his personal Savior. To many unskilled Christians this answer would seem to be the same as the one which the Heidelberg Catechism gives and as we have given in our definition of faith. An answer like this would at the same time be very popular and can easily be understood. In fact, you might even say that faith is indeed a gift of God. Yea, further, you might even maintain that this gift of God is bestowed only upon the elect. Even then no Arminian would disagree with this definition of faith. For the Arminian would circumscribe faith in this case as that gift of God that is bestowed only upon the elect; but he would add that the elect of God are those whom God knew from before the foundation of the world to be willing to receive that faith. O, to be sure, salvation is, also according to the Arminians, all of God, from beginning to end. It is all of sovereign grace. But whether the sinner will receive that sovereign grace is ultimately dependent upon his own will. And therefore it is very important that we leave the definition which we gave of saving faith just exactly as it was formed. Faith is the gift of God whereby the sinner is engrafted into Christ. Faith is in no sense a work or act of man by performing which he becomes worthy of salvation and righteousness and eternal life. All the, work that makes us worthy of salvation, of eternal life and glory, has already been performed and completely finished by Christ Himself. This is true even of the gift of faith. He merited that gift of faith for us by His perfect obedience. Nor may we ever say that faith is a condition, upon our fulfillment of which God is willing to give us the salvation merited for us by Christ Jesus our Lord. There are no conditions which man, on his part, must fulfill in order to receive salvation from God. Faith is a free and sovereign gift of God to the sinner, and that too, to the elect sinner. Nor may we present faith as the hand by which we, on our part, accept the proffered salvation. Also this conception of faith is often expressed and presented. Salvation, in that case, is presented as a beautiful gold watch which is freely offered to someone. And extending the hand, the one that offers that beautiful watch begs the person to whom it is offered to take it, if he only also extends his hand to accept that gift, it will be in his possession. But he will never actually possess that watch unless he will extend his own hand to take it from the one that offers it. Thus faith is presented as the hand by which we receive and take hold of the proffered salvation as it is presented in the gospel and preached by men. Also this must not take the place of the definition of faith which we offered, namely, that faith is that gift of God whereby we are engrafted into Christ. Faith is a profound, spiritual gift, and also a profound, spiritual activity of the entire soul. Man by nature has no hand whatsoever to receive and accept the salvation which God presents in the gospel. Faith is a bond, a spiritual bond, whereby we are so united with Christ that by it we live out of Him. Let us never forget that all our salvation is literally in Christ. In Him is our redemption. In Him is the forgiveness of our sins. In Him is the adoption unto children. In Him is the eternal and perfect righteousness, knowledge of God, wisdom, freedom from the dominion of sin, and sanctification, glorification, and eternal life and light and joy. Remember that all these blessings of salvation are not only merited by Him, but are also very really in Him. And therefore, in order to obtain all the blessings of salvation we must be spiritually united with Him. And faith is the living, spiritual bond whereby we are united with Him, or engrafted into Him. You understand, of course, that in a sense there is a figure of speech in the words “engrafted into Christ.” It is the figure of a branch of one tree that is grafted into another tree. And that engrafted branch becomes one organism with the tree upon which it is grafted, so that from that tree it receives all its life-sap. And this figure is certainly entirely Scriptural. In the gospel according to John, 15:1-5, the Savior compares the relation between Himself and believers to that between the vine and the branches: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. . . . I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” The same truth is expressed in different words in Romans 6:5: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”